Formerly 'Rambling with a cantankerous old mule"
A friend recently suggested that I give some photography advice on my blog. I am no professional, only having taken it up semi in earnest a few years ago. But here is my advice (for what it’s worth) on what it takes to be a better photographer:
As you start developing your interest in photography you probably need to sit and ask yourself several key questions – all of which will be crucial to your growth as a photographer. The answer to these questions will make the experience a richer one, and one that you can carry with you for many years. These include:
You may not have the answers to all of these questions straight away, as some of them you will only discover as you develop as a photographer, but it is important that you remain aware of them.
In my opinion, one of the most crucial aspects to photography is the “enjoyment” factor. If you are not enjoying it your creativity and quality of images will invariably suffer. One also can’t approach photography firstly because of what others will think of it. You are your most important fan, critic and client – even if you are doing it professionally. (Also, please don’t smother your friends and family with all your photos. Show them your best – the ones of which you are the most proud.)
Set yourself achievable goals and remember that you have never truly “arrived” as a photographer. There is always something more to learn, be it from professionals, photography resources, a photography community or even your buddies. Critiques and advice are your friends – don’t take them personally but decide to grow and learn from them. (A friend of mine drummed into me to look at my horizons because my right hand is “heavier” than my left… Now I can’t bear skew horizons in others’ photos.)
Way back in the 1980s when I picked up my first camera I remember my dad telling me to always figure out what my central focal point was – what or whom I was planning to shoot. I also remember him telling me to try to have a person or animal in my landscapes – to give them extra focus and oomph. I’ve never forgotten that. But then again, I also frequently tell the school groups I speak to that they need to learn the rules … and then learn when to break them. Your photos need to retain vibrancy and life – don’t let the rules constrain your creativity.
On that same note, learn to challenge yourself. If portraits are your speciality, try other genres: like macro work, long exposures, or night-time photography. This is especially important if you do this as a career, or are photographing your children every waking moment. As with any job, if you are shooting the same thing day in and day out you will eventually become stale… Shoot often and look for different, interesting perspectives – even the mundane has a potential jewel in it, just waiting to be discovered by a photographer with a creative eye.
As with any high-tech occupation, treat your equipment like gold. Invest in the best you can afford (especially when it comes to lenses) and then learn to use what you have. It’s the photographer behind the camera that’s important; the camera is just a tool – like a word processor is to a writer. Keep your equipment serviced and clean: a dirty camera or lenses will only frustrate you (and your clients if you do photography professionally); a flat battery or full memory card isn’t worth the stress it leads to on a shoot.
One thing I’ve learnt with my world-wide travels is this: if you’re shooting people – especially those you don’t know – remember to treat them with dignity. If a person is adamant that they don’t want to be photographed, then accept that. If in doubt, ask. I have found that most people I ask are only too happy to have their photos taken. Then try to capture that something special that makes them unique. Personally, this is the most rewarding type of photography for me – interacting with people. This is what has given more depth to many of my travels.
And finally, (in case I haven’t mentioned this enough already) have fun! If you’re not having fun, take a break from photography for a bit… Enjoy the moments without a camera as much as you would with one. (I’m writing this to myself as much as I am to you, the readers…) Believe in your abilities.
And have fun!